Investments in education could spur economic growth in India (Credit: World Bank)
I had the wonderful opportunity to listen to my former professor Amartya Sen at the World Bank who attempted to answer this very pertinent question in the minds of many today. The fundamental question at the core is why is it that while we rate democracy as the better form of government, it is single party ruled China that has been more successful at bringing more people out of poverty than democratic India? The implications for India are clear; investing in education and health for all its citizens is the best solution for long term growth.
When I heard the news last autumn that 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan had been shot simply for standing up for her right as a girl to get an education, I was horrified.
It also reminded me how lucky I was.
When I was offered a rare scholarship to study abroad, it wasn’t acceptable for me, as a young married Indonesian woman, to live apart from my husband. My mother laid out two options: Either he would join me, which meant giving up his job, or I had to decline the offer.
I know it was her way to advocate for my husband to support me, which he did without hesitation. We both went to the United States to complete our master’s degrees. I combined it with a doctorate in economics, and we had our first child, a daughter, while we both were graduate students.
Here was an exemplary developing country – nay, emerging market! In the 2000s, Brazil’s economic growth, albeit not stellar, was certainly steady. Inequality fell continuously and markedly throughout the decade and, as a result of those two things, poverty fell from 43% of the population in 2003 to around 25% by the end of decade (using a $4/day poverty line). By the World Bank’s definition – which is considerably more demanding than the government’s – the middle class grew in size by more than 50%, to over 60 million people in 2010. Infant mortality fell. Life expectancy rose. We were going to host the World Cup and the Olympics – the only country ever to do so back-to-back with the exception of the United States. The sun was shining... What could possibly go wrong?
Then, on June 13, a relatively small demonstration against a hike in bus fares in the city of São Paulo was violently repressed by police. The following two weeks saw a remarkable eruption of street protests across hundreds of Brazilian cities, with hundreds of thousands in the streets at certain times. In a soccer-loving country, Brazil’s successes at the Confederations Cup did nothing to mitigate popular anger. On the contrary, one of the protesters’ multiple banners was indignation at the scale of spending on (and corruption from) football stadia for next year’s World Cup, while schools, hospitals and public transport are allowed to languish.
'Why is China Ahead of India? Implications for Europe and the US,' was the topic of a talk yesterday at the World Bank by Nobel winner Amartya Sen which was chaired by Kaushik Basu. In the span of just under two hours, Sen managed to pinpoint India's main Achilles Heel (primarily related to the low overall quality of education, poor health care and skewed energy and other subsidies), while weaving in references to Kido Takayoshi, Mao Zedong, David Hume, Mahatma Gandhi, Adam Smith, Jon Stuart Mill, Milton Friedman, Keynes, Marx and other thinkers and influencers.
Amartya's talk coincided with the publication of a New York Times op ed titled 'Why India Trails China' in which he stressed that one cannot wait to fix health and education only after reaching some modicum of overall prosperity. Indeed, proper health and education, which foster human capabilities, are an essential precondition to sustainable growth and the ability to compete successfully in an integrated world. India still needs to take these East Asian lessons fully on board.
The Association of African Universities—AAU for short—held its 13th general conference last week in Libreville, Gabon. Representing the World Bank at this conference, I had a great opportunity to engage with this vibrant university community. A community which is expanding fast as demand for higher education is skyrocketing thanks to Africa’s “youth bulge”, that is, as the share of young people in the population is increasing in many countries. Private universities are mushrooming everywhere.
A significant share of the population in the Kyrgyz Republic – 37 percent – lived below the poverty line in 2011, according to the latest available data. And despite a relatively modest population of about 5.5 million, poverty rates across oblasts (provinces) span a striking range -- from 18 percent to 50 percent.
Why? Well, that is a surprisingly difficult question to answer.
Spring in DC draws more than just tourists. Last week, government officials, policy makers, civil society representatives and other thought leaders converged to take stock of the global economy during the IMF-World Bank spring meetings. The tone in the hallways was optimistic, but cautious. Growth in advanced economies still remains tepid, weighed down by lingering effects of the global financial crisis, demographic challenges, as well as weakening innovation and productivity growth. At the same time, there are encouraging signs that developing countries are in good shape, thanks to fiscal buffers that helped them to weather the storm.
Nevertheless, we must be mindful of the work ahead: the IMF warned of a ‘3-speed recovery’, where emerging markets are growing rapidly, the United States is recovering faster than most other advanced industrial countries, but Europe continues to struggle. Where does this leave developing countries? At a meeting with the G24 – a group of developing countries - I had the privilege of discussing the prospects for growth, and policies needed to achieve productivity growth essential for eliminating extreme poverty and for creating shared prosperity.
In his recent Huffington Post blog, World Bank President Jim Kim spoke about how the learning crisis is one of the greatest obstacles to development. According to the United Nations, an estimated 171 million people can lift themselves out of poverty if all students in poor countries acquired basic reading skills.
Sokha, a skinny orphan girl in Cambodia used to pick through garbage to survive. But thanks to series of events, she was able to enroll in school and excel. Her tale is one of the nine inspiring stories in Girl Rising, a documentary that aims to raise awareness about the plight of girls in the developing world.
On April 18, Girl Rising was screened at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. in an event to give a greater momentum to girls’ education and empowerment. President Jim Yong Kim, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Justine Greening, Secretary of State, International Development, UK, Holly Gordon, Executive Producer of Girl Rising, Frieda Pinto, an actress and Shabana Basij-Rasikh, Founder of SOLA, an organization hoping to expand education and leadership opportunities for Afghan women shared their thoughts on need of girls’ empowerment.
Watch the recap of the event:
Photo: Farida Parveen is a successful entrepreneur in Manikgong district, she was destitute until taking a loan to start a small poultry farm. © 2011 CGAP contest.
Youth are particularly vulnerable to economic problems. They often don’t have access to financial services due to lack of education and employment. Governments are aware of this and are working to find solutions.